Published: 09 September 2021 Author: Stefan Talmon
On 23 August 2019, Tornike K., a former Chechen separatist fighter who had fled to Germany, was shot dead in broad daylight in an execution-style killing in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park. The suspected killer, a Russian national, was arrested near the crime scene shortly after the crime and provisionally taken into custody. From the outset, Russian State involvement in the insidious murder was suspected. Once sufficient factual grounds emerged to suggest that the killing was carried out either on the order of the Russian State authorities or on those the Autonomous Chechen Republic, the Federal Public Prosecutor General took over the investigation on 4 December 2019. As a consequence, the Federal Government expelled two Russian diplomats.
On 18 June 2020, the Federal Public Prosecutor General brought charges of murder and a violation of Germany’s weapons laws against the Russian suspect, named as Vadim K., alias Vadim S., before the State Security Senate of the Higher Regional Court of Berlin. In the indictment, the prosecutor accused Russia of ordering the murder. In a press release, he stated:
At an unspecified time before 18 July 2019, State agencies of the central government of the Russian Federation tasked the accused to liquidate Tornike K., a Georgian national of Chechen descent He [Tornike K.] had been in Germany as an asylum seeker since the end of 2016. The circumstances behind the contract killing was the victim’s opposition to the Russian State, to the governments of its autonomous republics Chechnya and Ingushetia, and to the pro-Russian government of Georgia.
Tornike K. fought, for example, against the Russian Federation as leader of a Chechen militia in the second Chechen war of 2000-2004. Subsequently, in 2008, he put together a unit of volunteers to defend South Ossetia on behalf of the Georgian government. The unit, however, was never deployed because of the peace negotiations in the Georgian-Russian war. In addition, Russian authorities classified Tornike K. as a terrorist and accused him of being a member of the ‘Caucasian Emirate’ terrorist organization.
The accused accepted the order from state authorities to kill. He either hoped for a financial reward or shared the motive of his principals to kill a political opponent and thereby retaliate for the latter’s participation in earlier conflicts with Russia … .
Vadim K. finally carried out the State killing order at noon on 23 August 2019.
A spokesperson for the Federal Government commented:
The indictment by the federal prosecutor contains serious accusations regarding the involvement of Russian state authorities in the so-called Tiergarten murder case. The Federal Government takes this very seriously. … The German government reserves the right to take further steps.
Speaking to reporters in Vienna after the prosecutor’s announcement, Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said:
We once again invited the Russian ambassador for a meeting at the Foreign Ministry today to make our position unmistakably clear again to the Russian side, and the Federal Government expressly reserves the right to take further measures in this case.
Russia denied ay involvement in the murder. After the Russian ambassador’ meeting at the Federal Foreign Office, the Russian embassy in Berlin published the following statement on its website:
At the Foreign Office we were informed that the Federal Prosecutor’s office today brought charges against a Russian citizen for murder on 23 August 2019 in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in Berlin. The indictment alleges that the murder was carried out on behalf of government agencies of the central government of the Russian Federation. However, this, as before, is not supported by any facts and evidence.
We would like to point out that in connection with this process, two members of the Russian embassy were expelled from Berlin due to allegedly inadequate cooperation between our country and the German authorities. We know very well that the responsible Russian authorities cooperate with their German colleagues via partnership channels and answer requests made to them.
We consider the allegations made against Russian government agencies to be unfounded and untenable. […] These allegations do not contribute to the positive development of the already difficult German-Russian relations.
As far as the further measures against Russia envisaged in Berlin are concerned, if implemented they will not go unanswered.
The Federal Public Prosecutor General’s press release had a negative side effect on German-Georgian relations. The designation of the Georgian government as ‘pro-Russian’ caused a stir in Tbilisi which forced the German embassy there to publish a statement on its Facebook page. It read:
The German Federal Public Prosecutor General’s Office today issued a press release on the murder of Georgian citizen Tornike K. The wording used in this press release is capable of being misunderstood. There is talk of the ‘pro-Russian’ Georgian government. It was not the intention of the German judicial authorities to characterize the Georgian government in any way. Georgia is a reliable and important partner of the EU and NATO.
In a related development, on 10 August 2020 Slovakia expelled three Russian diplomats at the Russian embassy in Bratislava as a reaction to the abuse of a Schengen visa issued by the country’s consulate general in St. Petersburg that led to ‘a serious crime … on the territory of another NATO and EU member state.’ Apparently, one of the persons suspected of involvement in the murder had travelled to Germany on a Slovak visa.
In an interview with Russian news agency Interfax, Foreign Minister Maas addressed the murder in Berlin’s Tiergarten park, saying:
In his indictment of the alleged murderer, the Federal Prosecutor General assumed that the individual in question was acting on behalf of Russian state authorities. This is a highly significant allegation that the Federal Prosecutor General has certainly not made lightly. It therefore goes without saying that we are following the trial before the ordinary courts very closely.
We have repeatedly emphasised that we reserve the right to take further measures. The measures we take will also depend on what the trial brings to light.
The media referred to the Tiergarten murder as the ‘Russian Mykonos’ because of similarities with the so-called Mykonos case in the 1990s. On 17 September 1992, three Iranian-Kurdish leaders and another person were killed by Iranian agents in a Greek restaurant in central Berlin called ‘Mykonos’. The murdered dissidents were on the regime’s death list of 500 ‘enemies of Islam’. After a trial that lasted three and a half years, the Higher Regional Court in Berlin sentenced two of the assassins to life imprisonment for murder; two accomplices were convicted for aiding and abetting murder. For the first time in German legal history, a court expressly found that a foreign State was directly involved in the murder. The case was widely seen as an act of State terrorism or, at least, State-sponsored terrorism. In its judgment of 10 April 1997, the court determined that ‘the authorship for the deed falls on the Iranian ruler.’ The court continued:
The attack was rather initiated by the rulers of Iran. The defendants are eliminated… as independent perpetrators. … the result of the evidence taking has made it obvious that Iranian rulers not only approve of terrorist attacks abroad and, incomprehensibly, award the perpetrators honours, but that they themselves initiate attacks against people who, in their eyes, have become unpopular because of the political attitudes alone. They have their political opponents liquidated for the sole sake of maintaining power. …
Against this background, the liquidation order given by the political rulers of Iran is not only outside of all conceivable legal options, it is not only illegal and deplorable, but also highly despicable.
As a result of the court’s findings, the Federal Government withdrew its ambassador from Tehran and expelled four Iranian diplomats. It also ended its constructive engagement policy with the Islamic government. The Federal Public Prosecutor General issued an arrest warrant for Iran’s intelligence chief as well as for two Tehran-based officials of the Iranian intelligence ministry.
Should the Higher Regional Court in Berlin determine that Russian State agencies or the ‘rulers of Russia’ were directly involved in the murder of Tornike K., it would be difficult for the Federal Government not to take similar measures as in the Mykonos case. In such an event, the Tiergarten murder would put further strain on already tense German-Russian relations.
Category: International terrorism